Part I: General Format
Modules are divided into two general parts: the Deep Picture (explanatory stuff) and the Terse Details (practical stuff.)
Deep Picture: Overview of what is going on in the dungeon, who the major players are and where, how zones in the dungeon are arranged, and what might be significant. Use this part to integrate a module into the campaign setting, plant plot hooks leading to the dungeon, or define what may happen to the world after contact is made with the dungeon.
Terse Details: Room keys with barest minimum of information needed to play. Independent of the Deep Picture, and as much as possible each room description should be independent of other room descriptions, or should be on the same page as related rooms, so that there is no page-flipping during play.
The Deep Picture preps you for how to run the adventure, while the Terse Details are what you use during actual play.
A small dungeon would basically be a one to three-page Deep Picture introduction followed by Terse Details in the one-page dungeon format. A slightly larger dungeon would have map and room key on facing pages. If the dungeon is too large to fit the entire room key on one page, for example if it is a sprawling complex with multiple areas or if it has multiple dungeon levels, split the dungeon into sections. Each section would be a map and a key on facing pages, perhaps with a graphic inset showing how each section relates to other sections.
Actual monster stats are perhaps best kept on a separate page, either at the end of the Deep Picture section or the end of the module, which can be printed out and set to one side, so that it is always available regardless of which page you turn to.
Sample Terse Details
120. Ruined/vandalized Kitchen with hearth/chimney. Ogre skeleton. Hidden: snake, 8ft long, sack w/84gp. Shortsword (ogre’s “dagger”) Snake is reincarnation of ogre, becomes follower of high-Charisma Chaotic adventurer.Detail Elements
- Numeric or other label, in bold, to locate the room on the map
- Name of room, in bold, which can be used to improvise contents
- Obvious things to see in the room, in ordinary text
- Hidden things or triggerable events, in italics
- Bold text = summary of room,
- ordinary text = what is different than expected about the room,
- italic text = what’s discovered if a certain condition is met (room is searched, monster ambushes party, lever is pulled.)
If monster stats are moved to a separate sheet, room keys will only contain name of monster (generic or proper) and any description modifier, plus any details needed for play, such as unusual weapon or behavior. (“Troll: loyal to Ogre-King. Goblin named Bruce: loyal only out of fear.”)
Part II: General Level Design Practices
- Use lots of loops and branches
- Include minor level changes (balcony areas overlooking hallways, interconnected pits)
- There should always be at least one obvious thing to do in any room
- Empty rooms aren’t empty if there is something to interact with (multiple exits, locked doors)
- Include hints of reward, with obvious obstacle(s) to reward
- The best puzzles or riddles are built around remembering patterns seen in the dungeons, filling in missing elements by analogy, or recognizing the “odd one out” in a group of three or more elements
Divide maps into areas with general purposes or themes like:
Apply a modifier, either to an entire area or on a room-by-room basis. This can be picked based on what you have in mind for the dungeon or randomly selected.
Pick or randomly select a category for each room:
Combine this with the modifier and theme to create room descriptions, like “Abandoned Prison Guard Station” or “Crypt Reused as Lair”.
Some of this will be clearer when I finish my sample dungeon module and can refer to it as an example.
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